Year C; Lent 1; 3.110.2019
It might seem that this morning the earth shifted just a bit. Did anyone see that spectacular sunrise with vivid red, coral, orange and pink hues? It was breathtaking. And it was a gift from God as we lost and hour due to that pesky Daylight Saving Time.
Because today is the First Sunday in Lent, we notice changes in worship – the language, the seasonal color of purple, the prayers and worship tone change a bit. The Penitential Order that we say at the 8am Eucharist starts us off with the litany of the Ten Commandments and the confession. At the 10:45 Eucharist, the chanting of the Great Litany is a solemn reminder of our need to return to God again and again, against some pretty strong cultural head-winds.
At the 10:45 Eucharist, we chant our way around the Great Hall. We have been adapting really well to worship in the Great Hall. As we planned worship this First Sunday in Lent in this space, the Worship Ministry Team decided that we would make a procession around the Great Hall in the shape of the number eight. It felt kind of like a journey into Lent this morning; like a movement to a different time and space, down the aisle, pausing, continuing; down the aisle, pausing and coming around again and down. We took our own journey this morning, chanting, being led by the Spirit into what some of us might consider a “wilderness” called Lent.
Lent is a forty-day journey for Christians. It’s a journey of renewal and sometimes wrestling with God. It’s a journey toward God, with God and in God. We tend to think that forty days is a long time. After all, we are an action-oriented, rapid-transit kind of culture. Can’t we just enter into the symbolism of “penitence and return” without doing it for 40 days?
But Lent is called a journey for a reason. We are not to stay in one place. We are to grow. We are to journey deeper in our faith. We are to face our temptations and sins, holding them before God and asking for pardon which, by the way is lavished upon us by our loving God.
WE DO NOT TRAVEL ALONE. WE DO NOT FACE OUR TEMPTATIONS ALONE. NOT EVEN IN OUR SINS ARE WE ALONE. We are never alone – not just these forty days, but for a lifetime. And what a blessing it is to be accompanied by a great God who calls us “Beloved!”
But that devil! That evil influence comes our way and lays many temptations at our feet. Daily, the temptations seem to sneak into our lives. The little ones are the ones that get under my skin. Like, really, twice daily, at the intersection of McKeen and Spring Streets, at the 4-way blinking red light. Do you know that intersection? There is a rule that if two cars arrive at the intersection at the same time, the car on the right has the right-of-way. No one seems to know that rule.
Do you know how many people roll on through that intersection, without any regard to the rule? Do you know how often when I arrive KNOWING I’m the one to the right, never mind if I’ve even arrived first, still, no matter who it is, they sail on through the intersection?
I feel this alter ego emerge in my body that wants to shout profanities and use hand gestures to show my disgust. What I hate more is that they don’t even look at me! I want them to know that I knowthat they didn’t wait their turn and that they should PAY! She raises her fist!
God must be chuckling at me. “Darling daughter, where did you learn those words? I know you got that temper from your father. Breathe, dear one. You are my beloved. Calm down and return to me.”
I still call them a name under my breath!
For people of faith who struggle to live a godly life, the model for resisting temptation on a deeper spiritual scale surely is the story of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. After he was baptized, the heavens opened up, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and God declared God’s deep affection for him. “You are my Son, my beloved…”
Before Jesus begins his ministry, the Spirit leads him into a challenging journey in the wilderness to fast and pray. He certainly gains spiritual strength and depth. But by the end of the forty days, he is physically vulnerable. He is hungry.
The devil seems to be hovering around, just waiting to begin his manipulative work. The devil tests him to see if his hunger has weakened his spirit. “I’ll get him when he is weak and vulnerable. Let me start by tempting this Son of God to magically feed himself. He will then experience his ‘magical powers,’ and I can tempt him to use them to expose his sin of pride. Here Jesus, if you are the Christ, turn these stones into bread. If you are the Christ, show that you are able to fully remove hunger from the world. Do it and forsake your God.”
The answer is “no.”
So, what about political power? The devil shows him all the kingdoms and powers of the world and offers them to Jesus in a partnership. “Look, you can rule the way you want to – with justice and mercy, unlike that terrible Tiberius in Rome. Tempting, isn’t it?”
Again, the answer is “no.” “God’s mercy and justice are the only true powers. It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Finally, the devil tries to impress Jesus with his command of Scripture. He quotes the passages from the psalms that paint a beautiful picture of angels swooping in and saving him. “Surely, God’s angels will save you. To prove it, make a test and see. Throw yourself from the top of the temple. Show me that God will save you and I’ll believe that you are God’s Beloved.”
Jesus answered, “No, Mr. Devil. You can tempt me with these three powerful, enduring and life-changing propositions, but you won’t have my soul.” By that third refusal, he had firmly chosen to journey with God. He must have considered that this path was not the easy way, for he knew how difficult it had been for the prophets who went before him.
Life in any season can hand us some pretty awful, despairing and disorienting situations – our own personal wildernesses – where the “devil” wears us down, and in moments of weakness we find that we have crossed the line from temptation into sin.
The Great Litany of Lent leaves no situation of human wretchedness unnamed, no sorrow or despair unrecognized. Our chant is, “Have mercy. Have mercy. Have mercy.” We chant this because God is merciful and loves us.
Every journey we take, begins and ends in our beloved ness.